Republican Rep. Schweikert: Obama Didn't Hit A Crescendo

The Arizona Congressman sat in the House chamber Tuesday night and listened to President Obama address the nation. He tells Steve Inskeep this year's address sounded a lot like last year's speech.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Republican Congressman Dave Schweikert of Arizona joins us next. He's one of the lawmakers who listened to President Obama's State of the Union speech last night. Congressman, welcome back to our studios.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVE SCHWEIKERT: No, always happy to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So, higher minimum wage, universal preschool, job training, cutting red tape: Those were some of the things the president called for. What did you think?

SCHWEIKERT: Actually, I left the speech somewhat surprised, because in many ways, it sounded like a retread of the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. And I kept waiting for: When's the big moment? You know, when's the great initiative? When's the moment of passion? And I don't think the president ever sort of hit that crescendo.

INSKEEP: Has he chosen some issues that can put your party on the defensive? There's an election coming up.

SCHWEIKERT: Oh, of course. But sometimes, it's more than just the issue. It's sort of the underlying mechanics. And this was a genuine conversation I had going down the elevator last night with one of my liberal friends, and saying - the discussion - OK. I thought we were going to hear income inequality, the stagnation of salaries and economic growth. And the solution to that from the president was minimum wage.

It just - it seemed to be small ball, where we sort of told over the last couple of weeks that we were going to get something grand, and didn't even get close.

INSKEEP: Is it smarter for both sides to be playing small ball at this point, given that you don't agree on very much that's large?

SCHWEIKERT: It's - it probably is, but remember, much of the great frustration in Congress - and this actually is both on the right and left - is we hear these eloquent, well-delivered speeches, and then there's no follow-up. You know, it's not the Bill Clinton world, or even the George Bush world, where here's my policy, and dammit, I'm going to come visit you. I'm going to call you. I'm going to invite you to lunch. We're going to have breakfast. I'm going to come visit your district.

Where's the follow-through? You know, we're heading into year six, and yet you have members - particularly even in the Democrat Party - who say they've had almost no interaction with this president to move forward on policy.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about a policy that's of great interest to your state, because you're from Arizona, Congressman Schweikert. The president says he wants immigration reform. A number of Republicans also want immigration reform. The question is the details, what it involves. And the Republicans are heading off, as I understand it, on a retreat, where immigration reform is going to be discussed. Do you think that, given what you know, that it's likely that some deal can be reached this year on that issue?

SCHWEIKERT: Well, it's always complicated. And for those who specialize in this issue, it's vastly complicated. There's an, actually, underlying difference. We know the current immigration law has real problems. You know, the reason you have 11, 12 million undocumented in the country is something's wrong with the mechanics of the current law. But the underlying debate: What should the law look like in the future? You know, what we do today may be with us for another 25 years. Should it be what, you know, Great Britain and Canada and Australia and New Zealand, others have done, where it's sort of - it's a point base. It's a talent-based immigration system.

Or do you stay with what we have today, which is more of a familial, a family, a chain migration system? And those are very different things, and actually have very different impacts on the economy.

INSKEEP: In order to get a bill that maybe tackles some of those concerns, do you think substantial numbers of Republicans are willing to accept some kind of pathway to citizenship, which is what Democrats are demanding?

SCHWEIKERT: I'm not sure my party is, because there's this great discomfort of do you reward bad behavior, when you literally have millions of people of all walks and ethnicities and all genders, you know, around the world who followed the rules and waited? Do you screw up the incentive system and end up of with that sort of law of unintended consequences?

INSKEEP: So, that's a no, I think you're saying.

SCHWEIKERT: It's - almost every model we look at, if you sort of leap to handing out citizenship, you actually, in some ways, incentive more of very behavior you were trying to end.

INSKEEP: We've got just about 34 seconds left, Congressman Schweikert, but I want to ask about one other thing: The president, in one of the few times he directly took on Congress, or Republicans in Congress, was he said: We don't need 40 more votes on Obamacare, on the health care law. I know you guys disagree with me. Make your proposals, if you like. But it's a fact, and it's helping people. Is he right, that's it's time to move from voting against Obamacare all the time?

SCHWEIKERT: No, I must tell you, part of that, I think, was disingenuous, because many of those votes were incremental adjustments, changes, reprioritization, changing the dates. And this president actually just went and did many of those same things we proposed through executive action.

INSKEEP: But is he right, that it's time to make specific proposals, rather than voting against Obamacare?

SCHWEIKERT: But the point is we have made specific proposals. Even - let's go back to a more uncomfortable time.

INSKEEP: Just about 15 seconds. Go ahead.

SCHWEIKERT: The shutdown. Ultimately, that was about giving individuals the same prioritization that big business had already been given.

INSKEEP: OK. Congressman Dave Schweikert of Arizona, thanks very much.

SCHWEIKERT: Always enjoy this.

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